Lula Côrtes E Zé Ramalho
hat of history, and context? What if Astral Weeks and There’s a Riot Goin’ On had never been given a chance carve their place in the pop music landscape? Such is the case of Paêbirú, a 1975 collaboration between Brazilian artists Lula Côrtes and Zé Ramalho. With most copies purportedly destroyed in a warehouse fire, Paêbirú has remained a holy-grail for collector’s willing to shell out the cheddar (like, 1,300 cheddars) for this psychedelic opus. And while it’s a stretch to assume any album can run with the luminary discs mentioned above, it’s tempting to dream that every once in a while history will uncover a lost classic and drop a fully-formed world-beater into our grubby little hands.
Little is known about the recording of Paêbirú. Côrtes, who composes and plays on many of these tracks, seemingly appears only when we’re talking about obscure Brazilian psych reissues (Ramalho, on the other hand, has built a solid career as a Brazilian pop singer and takes on most vocal duties here). With all the murk surrounding the album, it’s easy to overlook the frankly silly nature of what we’re dealing with. Say the following out loud: Paêbirú is an obscure Brazilian psych concept album about the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) that was lost to time in a warehouse fire. Age and scarcity lend this record a legitimacy—and audience—it might otherwise be unable to muster.
The most impressive aspect of Paêbirú, then, is the ease with which it transcends its goofy elemental approximations. If Paêbirú is too uniform in sound and style to truly transport from one element to another—your mind will not, for instance, immediately cease conjuring images of air and move on to fire at the close of track six—then it compensates with its transformative power. Côrtes and Ramalho are on some rainforest shit here, and when dealing with such gung-ho psych monsters it’s easy to forget things like “couch,” and “stereo,” and follow them down the rabbit hole.
Côrtes and Ramalho skip the unicorn-horn crystalphones and do their best conjuring with pedestrian instruments, peppering their novel-length folk with liberal amounts of flute, sax, and congas. Interspersed among these longer, often improvised tracks are shorter arrangements, whose memorable melodies and vocal chants stand out against the Technicolor jams.
The albums begins in a purple haze of buzzing insects and leafy drone, but by the time “Trilha de Sumé” ends, ritualistic grunts and a canopy-scraping sax are all that remain. The remaining two songs of the Earth segment traverse in galloping drum patterns before a placid guitar outro teases into the considerably calmer, and weaker, Air compositions. Chalk it up to an over-reliance on field recordings and a lack of Ramalho—these tracks lack the visceral heft of the album’s first segment.
By design, perhaps, because on “Raga Doss Raios,” Côrtes check-raises the whole she-bang, ushering in the Fire portion with two and a half minutes of brilliant, muscular Hendrixian noodling. All of this, however, is warm-up for “Nas Paredes Da Pedra Encantada,” which approximates what the Doors might’ve sounded like if 1) they were capable of having a good time, 2) were a funk-rock house band from some lost Amazonian hit factory. Rifle shots of organ fight for face-time with a bulbous bass line, all before Ramalho bulls in with a blissful wall of vocals that encompasses the song’s final minute of mindfuck.
The band lives off the sonic heat of “Nas Paredes” for two minutes on “Marácas De Fogo” before pushing forward into the Water segment, the band’s most focused and coherent work. “Louvaçao A Iemanjá” is a beautiful, unaccompanied call-and-response chant, while “Trilha De Sumé” sets the album over calm seas, a tidy acoustic coda for an intimidating, expansive music album.
Paêbirú is a unique experience; a dated album untouched by time. It would be ludicrous to suggest that any indie rocker was shelling out the kind of e-Bay bucks it would take to land a wax copy, and as such, its influence on contemporary music is essentially non-existent. Deserving of its lofty reputation, if not its stratospheric price tag, Paêbirú is a time capsule of Brazilian psych music, a mercurial run through the jungle finally available to the rest of us.